January 14, 2022
Returning Home features and contextualizes the creative works of Diné boarding school students at the Intermountain Indian School, which was the largest federal Indian boarding school between 1950 and 1984. Diné student art and poetry reveal ways that boarding school students sustained and contributed to Indigenous cultures and communities despite assimilationist agendas and pressures. Below, read an excerpt from the book.
In the twentieth century, Diné students attended an array of school programs, including (but not exclusively) the program at Intermountain. Returning Home contextualizes the various dynamic forms through which Native American students continued to deﬁne their identities in relation to their homelands, urban settings, and new spaces—in this case, at Intermountain. Such forms of Indigenous revitalization and innovation came through ceremony, prayer, music, song, speech, art, dance, and poetry, to name only a few examples and other forms of expression. In an analysis of the media through which boarding school students speak for themselves, this book delves into the intricacies of Indian boarding school experiences. While students faced forces to eradicate, manipulate, and diminish their Diné cultures and identities at the Intermountain boarding school during the late twentieth century, student artists and writers also harnessed their educational experiences for their empowerment and revival as Indigenous youth. By collaborating with Diné communities such as the Navajo Intermountain Alumni Association, and then by centering on student experiences, this book underscores Indigenous living histories that continue to revitalize and affect many Indigenous families and communities.
We seek to bridge different communities and primarily serve Diné Intermountain alumni by “returning home” their creative works and acknowledging their pains and joys lived in colonizing systems of boarding school education. Ho- Chunk scholar Amy Lonetree exempliﬁes the signiﬁcance of “shared authority” in Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums, which we have sought to emulate by working with Diné communities, families, and professionals. Lonetree also stresses “speaking the hard truths of colonialism”: “It is time for us communities to acknowledge the painful aspects of our history along with our stories of survivance, so that we can move toward healing, well-being, and true self-determination.” This work pays tribute to Intermountain students’ lives and stories, for their posterity and for all to remember what they endured and created in some of the hardest circumstances that power dynamics and injustices of colonialism set. Because we are trying to reach a spectrum of audiences, including the general public and Diné communities, we pursue a balance that prioritizes the students’ own voices over academic terms, theories, and frameworks. This book is based on our co-curated exhibit, Returning Home: The Art and Poetry of Intermountain Indian School, 1954–1984, which carried home the arts and creative writing of former Intermountain students to the Navajo Nation. The traveling exhibit featured the students’ learning journey and expressions of home, family, school, and global consciousness, paralleling Diné teachings of the seasons of life that align with the Four Sacred Mountains from East, South, West, and North.